Katie Grand: the Dr Dre, Pharrell Williams and Kanye of fashion... but a little more badass

Stylist. Editor. Creative director. Harbinger of hip. The go-to arbiter of cool. Jedi master of the fashion industry.

Katie Grand: the Dr Dre, Pharrell Williams and Kanye of fashion... but a little more badass

There’s a photograph of Kate Moss from 2012 republished in the latest issue of Love magazine. Moss, barefoot, cigarette cocked, stands on a rooftop wearing a simple white dress that shivers and billows in the wind. A black scarf winds around her head, cowling her neck and chiselling her face into an unearthly luminous pentagon. It’s an exquisite image.

The picture, styled by Katie Grand and shot by photographer Tim Walker, has been revived for a feature in which the pair reminisce about their favourite shoots for the cult magazine. 

Grand recalls the scene. "She [Kate] was in vintage Bill Gibb from Relik, and we were all quite drunk. This was almost the best she’s ever looked, in my eyes. She always looks good, but there was just something very easy about being around her for so long. She’s so fun. That shoot was just nice because everyone was very friendly. And we listened to Waltz Darling by Malcolm McLaren the whole time." 

"It was a very nice vibe up on that roof," Walker agrees. "It really was." 

If there’s a coda to Grand’s status as one of the world’s most in-demand stylists and fashion mag supremos, here it is: she makes the best look better. And hell, fun is had doing it.

Grand is putting the rubbish out when I arrive at the Tufnell Park home she shares with husband Steve Mackey, the bassist from Pulp, now a producer and director. She’s just back from walking her dog Red, a Hungarian vizsla, and it’s summer-raining so she’s a little damp and rosy and very casj. Not that I was expecting rainbow tulle and glitter eyes. 

Her own archive of clothes – catalogued and alphabeticised by designer – is so enormous she’s had to move it from her home into a studio; she loves fashion to her bones. But there’s nothing attention-hogging about her appearance. Famously gap-toothed, minimally make-upped, wildly corkscrew-haired, Grand’s vibe is more scrubbed, fun best friend than sparkly diva fashionista. She’s a world-famous taste-maker, but you won’t find her competing for the camera lens at the expense of beautiful friends or loyal clients. 

So who is Grand, this 48-year-old from Selly Oak who has the fashion world at her feet and a BFFs list that includes Kate Moss, Victoria Beckham, Madonna and Marc Jacobs?

She’s "an icon of cool", "a Jedi master of the fashion industry", "a style maverick", "fashion’s premier iconoclast" and "the super stylist who decides what will be hanging in your wardrobe". And that’s just according to the media. 

To her fashion pals, she’s really something else. "The Dr Dre, Pharrell Williams and Kanye of fashion, but just a little more badass," Adriana Lima; "Her contributions to the fashion industry are a constant source of new ideas that are a beautiful reminder to all of us that this business was always meant to be a celebration of creativity," Kendall Jenner; "Katie Grand made me look like a million bucks and I do not look like a million bucks. Katie Grand is my favourite stylist," Courtney Love.

Grand is editor-in-chief of Love, "a twice-yearly compendium of inspiration – for designers, for artists, for anyone looking for visual ideas; for anyone who loves fashion and design so much that they want to climb inside the heads of their heroes". The mag might be owned by glossy publishing house Condé Nast but there’s no doubt that really it belongs to Grand, she breathes it. 

Before Love she launched Pop for Emap, was fashion director of The Face and launched Dazed & Confused with Jefferson Hack and Rankin in 1993. In the publishing industry, her pedigree is gilt-edged.

But that’s not all. She’s also trusted advisor and "super-stylist" to the most prestigious names in fashion, even creating many of the campaigns that plump out the ad pages of Love. It might be easier to list the fashion houses Grand hasn’t worked with over the years but here are some she has: Prada, Miu Miu, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Bottega Veneta, Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, Calvin Klein, Armani, Loewe, Fendi, Gucci. 

Grand says she doesn’t much care for being labelled a super-stylist. "I don’t know what it means. I got that name very early on. Looking back on my career I was in a very unusual position to be given creative director of Bottega Veneta when I was 27. And by the time I was 30, I’d launched three magazines, so I was high-profile at a very young age. But I don’t really think of myself as a stylist any more – I’m a fashion creative."

However you care to label her, her success is clear. The biography I have been sent by her people stretches to more than 4,000 words and it’s head-spinningly exhausting to read. So how did the girl from Brum get here. Was she always an assured trend-setter?

"I don’t think I was a confident child, no," Grand says thoughtfully. "I was a fat, teased child and then very anorexic for about 12 years."

At Saint Martins, though, she found her tribe – meeting many of today’s big fashion names, including Phoebe Philo, Giles Deacon and Stella McCartney, when they were students there together. By the time she bailed out to launch Dazed & Confused, Grand was on her way. 

"I’ve been outrageous," she laughs. "When I think back on some of the situations I’ve been in, I just look back and think ‘Oh my god, you were such a young arrogant fucker.’ I do look back and think ‘Where did that come from?’ The problem with age is that your confidence goes. You start doubting yourself, and social media does kind of spoil your bubble, in a way. I’d gone through 15 years of my career thinking I’m so amazing, and then you start reading stuff about yourself and you think ‘Fucking hell, no I’m not.’"

Though she admits she can be tough to work with when the pressure’s on at Love, Grand is famed for her clear-sighted judgment and calm thoughtfulness to the designers who rely on her in the mad whirl of the fashion shows and the relentless collection seasons. 

"The designers I work with do work very, very close to their shows and there’s no time for maybes, it’s decision after decision. Most of those shows we do, the creative part is done in maybe four days, it’s really intense work and you can’t doubt yourself. There’s really no time to consider."  

The twin strands of her career – publishing and fashion – are, of course, parasitically united. Love gives Grand, her team of writers, photographers, stylists and all of her fashion house friends a beautiful platform to display their wares. It’s the most lush piece of marketing collateral you’ll come across. But it’s also a successful business. It’s not easy to get sales data for Love as it’s not audited by the ABC.

But the official press pack says 80% of readers are female, with a median age of 28. The Love reader "is not looking for a magazine that dictates to her what to wear – she already has a good idea of what she wants – but that gives her more information, tells her more about the ideas that are defining a season, and explains to her why she loves what she loves. She loves luxury as much as she loves irreverence." Just over half of sales occur in the UK, with almost two-thirds of those in London and the south east. Grand says it’s a profitable magazine.

"Because I came from independent publishing I’ve always had that thing about the leaner you are, the more creative you can be," Grand says. "That’s what was attractive about us to Condé Nast 10 years ago [when the publishing company’s then managing director Nicholas Coleridge poached Grand and most of the team behind Pop and set them up with a new vehicle they called Love]. I had the numbers of what I’d done up until then and they were like: ‘Oh yeah, that seems like low risk.’ And we made money from our first issue of Love. So I’m really into the finances of it, that gets me quite excited." 

It helps, of course, that, because Love is such a prestigious, gorgeous showcase, most of the content comes for free. "For the magazine and the moving-image stuff we’ve done around it, no-one’s paid – none of the models, none of the actors, none of the photographers," Grand says. "We do everything on a really, really tight shoe-string. But then when you do commercial projects with these people, they’re more often than not very well paid."

It’s a beautiful model, when you think about it. Do a fabulously gorgeous photoshoot for Love and you’ll have the cachet to command top dollar when the fashion brands are looking for professionals to shoot ads and brochures. And, fill your pages with wonderful (free) PR for the latest collections, and those brands are more likely to advertise with you and, yes, throw some handsomely paid work your way. Back, back, scratchy, scratchy.

Does Grand ever feel compromised being the chief curator of what goes into each issue of Love and yet also being hired as a stylist by so many of the brands featured in its pages, even being paid to create some of the ads that appear in the magazine?

She seems a little bemused by the question. "It’s just kind of how it is. I don’t really think about it and no-one else really seems to think about it. I’m lucky that my relationship with Miuccia [Prada] started so long ago – 2002 – that it’s just presumed now that’s who I work with. There’s a lot of Prada history in me. But I am conscious of being generous to other Italian designers when it comes to the magazine."

The relationship between editorial and advertising in the world of Love is much more intimate than many other magazines would brook. The editorial is carefully combed to ensure that advertisers are kept happy. "Relationships with advertisers are much more straightforward now, it’s much more ‘You didn’t credit us in the last issue, so we’re pulling the advertising’, and I sit there and say ‘I’m really sorry, it won’t happen again’, and it doesn’t," Grand says. "It’s so entrenched in me now. I can wake up in the morning and think ‘Oh fuck, that credit got dropped, that picture got dropped, we don’t have that credit anywhere else in the magazine so we need to shoot something else.’"

It helps that Grand’s publisher, Catherine Russell, is a partner of long standing. "We’ve worked together since The Face, since 1998, so we have a very solid relationship," Grand says. "We do all the ad meetings together, and she also looks after my commercial schedule, so she’s sort of my agent now."

For anyone bristling at this obvious collapse of the divide between church and state, well, where have you been for the past few years? Consumer magazine sales are on a relentless downward slide, print advertising is withering and the publishing sector has not come through digital disruption with compensatory revenues secured.

As Grand sees it: "People just aren’t investing in print in the same way, so you can’t take the piss. If you’ve got that [commercial] relationship and you want to maintain it, you have to have a very open dialogue. What didn’t they like about what we did when we shot their stuff for the last issue? Ask them what they would like. ‘Should we be shooting a handbag for you? What’s helpful?’ I think 10 years ago an advertiser would get huffy and pull the ads if they weren’t happy with the editorial coverage, but they wouldn’t tell you why they were huffy. So you’d be left wondering ‘What did we do wrong? We did 18 pages on you’, and then a year later you’d find out you’d shot the wrong product and you’d go ‘Why didn’t you just tell us?’"

For Grand, print is worth fighting for, but many magazines have lost the art of print publishing in the rush to digital. "I still love print. What’s happened with other magazines is that people shoot for Instagram, so the layout’s pretty crappy. Magazines don’t look like magazines any more, they look like a collection of ideas for Instagram, and people have taken their eye off the ball about how good the print product can be. Why is it that book sales are going up and magazine sales are halving year on year? I think it’s because the effort’s just not there."

Love exists outside the usual Condé Nast parameters, with independence, including its own offices, baked in from day one. "When Nicholas Coleridge green-lit Love he said: ‘I get the feeling you don’t want to be rigid, we shouldn’t put you at Vogue House, you should just go off and do it.’" 

It’s been a successful partnership for more than a decade, despite Grand’s penchant for change. "I always had this thing of only staying at a magazine for seven years; I was seven years at Dazed, seven years at Pop, and then we got to seven years on Love and it was kind of ‘Ooo’, and then, fortunately, everyone at Condé Nast changed at our seven-year itch, so we didn’t have to change so much."

As it happens, Grand was hotly tipped to succeed Alexandra Schulman who stepped down as editor at sister Condé Nast magazine Vogue in 2017. After all, Grand has gone on record saying that an early dream was to edit the title and, as a schoolgirl, she wrote to then editor Liz Tilberis to ask her how to go about it. Tilberis suggested a course at Saint Martins – advice that she followed. So 30 years on, did she want the Vogue job? She thinks carefully before answering. "I wouldn’t want Vogue. Yes, I interviewed for the job. I interviewed a lot for it. And I think Edward [Enninful] was the right person for the job." 

But does she have another magazine in her? As someone who’s built fame and fortune (dubbed "Ten Grand a day" for the premium she commands as a stylist) on dictating and riding the zeitgeist, surely Grand is thinking about her next content play.

"I can’t see what the point is of launching another magazine, unless it was with Instagram or YouTube or Apple. The big challenge for publishing is that every newsagent has closed and you just can’t get them. The three big magazine shops in Soho have gone and the one on Old Compton Street feels like it’s just holding on for dear life." 

So much so that Love has launched its own online shop for readers to order issues. "It was a complete experiment and Condé Nast said ‘This is a complete nightmare, why are you doing this?’ and I said ‘Because we have to find some kind of solution, at least try and figure out how to get this magazine to people when the newsagents are closing.’ We had 50 copies of each cover, we put them all in envelopes, took them to the Post Office, it felt so antiquated doing it like that but that’s what we did. It was a nice experiment. And we sold out. Gigi [Hadid] posted ‘Link here to buy my cover’ and people did."

Grand is very into the way fashion is opening itself up to direct-to-consumer selling and sees parallels for publishing too. "The way to do publishing in the future is probably to hook up and do click to buy and to link with our big Instagram friends Gigi [Hadid], Bella [Hadid], Hayley [Baldwin] and Kendall [Jenner] and work with them and their fan bases." It’s an enticing proposition and future toe-dipping is likely to include Love-themed merch. 

But till then Grand is concentrating on turning the publishing model on its head through film. #MovingLove launched last year as a series of celebrity-stuffed videos to accompany the magazine. David Beckham, Cindy Crawford, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tracee Ellis Ross and Juliette Lewis are among the stars. The videos, most a few minutes long, though some, like Rami Malek’s "The Ben Cobb Show" (see below) run to half an hour, are a result of a YouTube collaboration. YouTube’s head of fashion and beauty, Derek Blasberg, has known Grand for years and says she was one of his first calls on landing his job there: "The world of Love transcends its medium."

"The problem with print is that it’s over so quickly," Grand says. "By rolling these films out, four a week, we’ve got weeks of content for our website, rather than moments."

This summer’s issue of Love, and the accompanying videos (though it’s starting to feel like the mag is the accompaniment) sees the formula really hitting its stride, Grand explains. "It is the closest we’ve ever got to print and film co-existing. I think the photographers weren’t ready before. And crucially, the relationship with YouTube has allowed financially for us to invest in moving image – and it is quite an investment and it is a bit of a risk still." 

The first batch of 54 videos clocked up more than 16 million views and 24 million minutes of watch time, so not such a risk, as it turns out.

As for the future of the fashion industry itself, Grand is optimistic, particularly having spent time with the young designers coming through the Sarabande Foundation, the charity set up by the late Lee Alexander McQueen, who left the majority of his estate to support creative and visionary talent.

"We did a project with Sarabande in our latest issue and we spoke to maybe 20 designers and not a single one of them had any interest in going to work for a big fashion company, not one of them," Grand says. 

"They were very much into craft and being nice, helping and doing the right thing. I went to college in the early 90s and it was still very much the 80s mentality of ‘Gonna get a big job, gonna work at a big fashion house, gonna be really successful’, whereas I think hopes and dreams are very different now, in a good way.

"Traditionally art was the political, cultural place for people to discuss politics and their frustrations. But it feels like the fashion industry is trying harder than any of the other arts to be inclusive, diverse, political. It feels very much like that is the place where everyone’s being very loud about the environment or sexism, or racism, or sizeism. It feels like that’s moving so fast in the fashion industry."

However fast fast is, though, expect Grand to be there first.

Marc Jacobs:
Cracking the code

Grand first met Jacobs at Hôtel Costes in Paris in 2001, gate-crashing an intimate dinner hosted by the Louis Vuitton house, where Jacobs was creative director. She went on to style 18 womenswear fashion shows for Louis Vuitton from 2005 to 2014 and has been a stylist for and adviser to Marc Jacobs’ womenswear shows since spring 2013. She became the creative director and stylist for Marc Jacobs Beauty and women’s and men’s campaigns in 2013 and for the Daisy fragrance in 2017.

It’s a very easy relationship, working with Marc.

I’ve seen him go through phases, he drops weight, gets really into fashion. He really, really loves fashion when he’s feeling good and healthy, like all of us – you know, you feel good, thinner, you want to go shopping – so I kind of really love him when he’s in those moments, he’s very generous and very embracing of other designers. And he’s definitely on a good arc at the moment. 

Marc is very good at codes, he set the codes for Daisy: she’s always outdoors, she’s always in white and she’s always young.  

Even though you can have worked on something for such a long time, you still turn up on the day and it’s quite random and the way that Coty [which licenses the Daisy brand] lets us work is quite free, amazingly flexible. We don’t even storyboard the commercial, we just go and do it. It’s quite unusual with fragrance, especially when there’s so much money at stake, to be given that freedom, to be allowed to turn up in a field and everyone says: "OK, we’ll just let you guys do what you want for five days."

I know other people who work with Coty and that’s not how it flies, there are a lot more meetings, a lot more storyboarding, a lot of parameters set. I suppose you get to a point where you’ve got confidence with that particular fragrance, it’s doing well, so they now know that what we fought for and what we were really difficult about in the beginning works – like it had to be a grungy soundtrack, we fought for Kaia [Gerber] the first season she did it, she’d not really done anything before. We were set in our ways, which took quite a lot of negotiation from a very clever person who works with Marc, and it’s worked, so we’ve earned that freedom.

Daisy is doing so well because Marc himself is so involved and I think that just doesn’t happen with fashion companies and fragrances, on the whole. That’s definitely healthy. [According to Coty, the Daisy Marc Jacobs pillar was the fastest growing franchise among the Top 10 US Women’s Fragrances in 2018.] The next problem is the make-up, I’d like that to start picking up more.

Miu Miu:
Out in the fields

Grand has worked with Miuccia Prada since 2002, styling shows for Prada and Miu Miu and creating Miu Miu ad campaigns, including this Fall/Winter 2019/20 campaign.

I panicked a bit on this one. The photographer was brand new and he’d never really shot film before; I’d never worked with him.

Miuccia had said in the meeting that she wanted to see photographers’ work that she didn’t know. So I took about 30 books, most of them by people I didn’t know, and she focused on this guy Eddie Wrey. I don’t Google people because it feels a bit intrusive, stalkerish, so I knew nothing about him except this book of very beautiful prints that he’d shot for Another Man. I thought he was just going to be some kid straight out of art school. So I phoned him and said "Miuccia would really like you to do the Miu Miu campaign", and he was really posh. "Oh it sounds great, Katie, it’s going to be amazing." And I was like: "Oh my god, what have we let ourselves in for."

So I was nervous because it was such a big thing for him and, you know, on those shoots, there’s such a massive crew. There’s a 100 people usually behind the camera. We’d just come from shooting Daisy [for Marc Jacobs] in Napa and there were 108 people on that shoot behind the camera and we’d taken a good 90 of them on to Miu Miu.  

So, I said to Eddie: "Shall we take the pre-light day – me, you and one girl – and just go out and see what happens?" I thought if Eddie’s not done this before, let’s go out in a field with a few dresses. So there were four of us on set and we shot from 4am to 9pm when no-one had arrived. And it really helped, it got us both into it. And the model Meghan [Roche], who I’d just worked with on Daisy, was up for anything –  "You want me in a stream? Yeah, I love getting in streams. You want me to run downhill? Yeah, I can’t wait." Most of the campaign is from that day, before the set people turned up, before the props turned up, before the Miu Miu clients turned up – hair and make-up hadn’t even got there. You can just focus on what you’re doing rather than feeling that pressure. 

The man in red

The #MOVINGLOVE series, conceived by Grand and YouTube’s director of fashion and beauty, Derek Blasberg, launched in 2018 and is described as a fashion print magazine that’s migrated to a moving-image medium. It was one of the first original-content projects launched by YouTube Fashion and Beauty. The first series featured celebrities from David Beckham to Courtney Love. The second series launched this summer and stars Rami Malek in his first film since Bohemian Rhapsody. It is styled by Grand and directed by Call This Number, a group of which Grand’s husband is part.

The first fashion film I did was 10 years ago and I remember saying to people, "this is where the future is, this is what it’s all going to be about". All the photographers were huffy and said it’s really expensive. But the thing about most photographers is that they’re artists and have very fragile egos and don’t really want to stand in front of about 50 people fucking it up. 

Some really took it on board, though. Alistair [McLellan, photographer] has always been super-receptive to moving image, and then you’d have others like Mert [Alas] and Marcus [Piggott] who were definitely more nervous about it. Now they’ve got going, they’re really into it. I think what Alistair showed was that the photographer could really do it and he does it himself, whereas others have a big crew that they boss around to do it.

I’m definitely enjoying the film thing. I like standing there directing the models, with someone very good there next to me, whether that’s Alistair or Steve [Mackey] my husband, or Willy Vanderperre. I think the moving image is very interesting, it’s so much fun.

We did 54 MovingLove films last December and the current stretch that’s being dropped at the moment is, I think, 26. It’s really fun and I think so many of my references are movie references anyway and Steve and Douglas [Hart, founding member of band The Jesus & Mary Chain and a music-video director] have an amazing wealth of knowledge of weird 1960s films and it’s interesting being able to work with your references in a very different way.  

Douglas and Steve’s process is very, very tricky. They have these original early 1970s cameras which shoot film, but then it’s processed through to digital, so it’s a real palaver and the cameras are enormous, so when you walk on to set, it looks like you are on a 1970s movie set. I think that’s why the actors we have worked with get very into it. The cameras are very locked off, so it’s always a bit like a screen test: you walk on in character and there’s not so much direction, once you’ve had the dialogue about what you want. Elle Fanning was the first proper actor they shot, and she just said "Yeah, I’ve got it", and walked on-set and everyone thought she was amazing.

I had this idea of doing this chat show, and I wanted Ben Cobb [editor-in-chief of Another Man] to be the interviewer and I spoke to Steve and Douglas about it and they did the treatment for me and when I saw it I thought: "Rami [Malek] is never going to go for this, this isn’t even going to get to him, the agent isn’t even going to show it to him,  there are too many variables, it’s too complicated."

But Rami saw the treatment and loved it. He improvised the whole thing. We talked through what his character name would be, and then we did his fitting. I was kind of nervous anyway, I always feel that I have to work harder at being a men’s stylist, it’s just not as easy for me, so I was quite shaky. He tried everything on, and was getting into this character and then he said: "This guy’s going to wear the red." I said: "OK, great, love the red." Then the red suit got stuck in customs and the seamstress did this full-on open-heart surgery on it in 20 minutes before we started shooting. 

In the end, it was all one take: 29 minutes. When he walked off set everyone was saying "What a privilege to be in the room and to watch that."